A group of 12 anti-war activists were found guilty of trespassing Dec. 12 by Hennepin County District Court Judge Lorie Gildea after a half-day trial.
The group had been charged during a July 13 protest at the headquarters of Alliant Techsystems, Minnesota’s biggest weapons merchant and the object of relentless protest over its manufacture of rocket motors, machine guns, bullets and so-called depleted uranium munitions—the internationally condemned toxic, radioactive shells used to smash hardened targets.
The 12 radical pacifists, convicted of violating a new Edina City ordinance, were each ordered to pay a $142 fine or do 24 hours of community service.
(On Dec. 15, Judge Gildea, 44, who’s been a District Judge only since September, was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Gildea’s husband, Andrew, is a Republican Party functionary.)
The trespass convictions came in striking contrast to identical trials that took place this time last year. On Dec. 10 and Dec. 14, 2004, two separate Hennepin County juries found two groups of protesters not guilty of state trespass charges. During the separate four-day trials, the defendants successfully argued that Alliant’s uranium weapons are illegal to produce and that federal and international law made what otherwise appeared to be nonviolent trespass an excusable act of “crime prevention.”
Likewise, a jury in October 2003 acquitted a group of 18 Alliant weapons protesters who argued that the company’s production of land mines was illegal. The three embarrassing defeats for Hennepin County prosecutors led the City of Edina to hurriedly enact a local trespass ordinance that, as a petty misdemeanor, does not allow for a jury trial.
The new ordinance also redefines the “claim of right” section of the law—used successfully by anti-war defendants to explain the outlaw status of Alliant’s weapons—eliminating references to or respect for prevailing constitutional and international law.
The hastily enacted ordinance was the first issue taken up at trial Dec. 12. Judge Gildea appeared to consider a “motion to dismiss,” presented by attorney Kenneth Gleason and defendant Bob Burns.
Gleason and Burns, who spoke on behalf of all the defendants, argued that the ordinance was incompatible with the state statute (unconstitutionally restricting a defendant’s “claim of right”), and that the City Council had violated the city code in the process of adopting the new rule.
The judge denied the motion and proceeded with the bench trial (a trial without a jury).
The defendants included Burns, Jane McDonald, Elizabeth McKenzie, Barbara Vaile, John Schmid Jr., Tom Bottolene, Elizabeth Pepperwolf, Sam Foster, David Harris, Bonnie Urfer, Kathleen Ruona and this reporter.
According to its Web site, Alliant Techsystems is a $3 billion military contractor with 13,700 employees in 23 states. In April this year the company—the country’s number-one bullet maker—boasted that it had produced 1.2 billion bullets for the Army in a single year. U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq account for a heavy increase in government orders. Alliant claims to have ceased its production of anti-personnel land mines and cluster bombs.
AlliantACTION!, a local coalition of peace, environmental and human rights activists, has conducted a long-standing campaign of protest and resistance to the contractor’s war profiteering.
Alliant Tech claims to have produced 16 million 30mm uranium shells for use by the Air Force and the Army. The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 30, 2001, that the small-caliber shells bring $21.50 apiece.
“Depleted” uranium (DU) weapons are armor-piercing shells made from waste uranium-238, which is left over in huge quantities from the manufacture of nuclear weapons and fuel for nuclear reactors. When the weapons smash armor plate, the uranium burns at high temperatures and turns to dust that can be inhaled or ingested. Internal DU contamination has been blamed for skyrocketing increases in birth abnormalities in Iraq’s civilian population, and among children of Gulf War veterans. DU poisoning is also alleged to play a major role in the devastating symptoms known collectively as Gulf War Syndrome that are plaguing hundreds of thousands of veterans.
While anti-uranium weapons activists may be unable to explain their case to juries for now, civil society is moving ahead to abolish DU.
On Nov. 17, the European Parliament for the third time called for a halt to the use of DU. The resolution says the EP “reiterates its call for a moratorium—with a view to the introduction of a total ban—on the use of so-called ‘depleted uranium munitions.’” The EP previously condemned DU in February of 2003 and January of 2001.
In September, the prestigious Physicians for Social Responsibility, winners of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, issued a 21-page report on DU that declared “the use of DU weapons that leaves a persistent noxious environmental and public health hazard is unconscionable.” The physicians further demanded that DU weapons “be withdrawn from military arsenals,” and that “the U.S. military support independent studies of the longer-term health effects of battlefield use of DU on combatants and on the Iraqi population exposed to DU.”
The United Nations Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities has twice resolved that the use of DU is a violation of binding humanitarian law, and that “all states … need to curb the production and spread of … weapons containing depleted uranium.”
Another group of 42 activists, who were cited for trespass on Oct. 24, are scheduled for arraignment in January, with a bench trial to follow. The October date was the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Charter outlawing wars of aggression. ||
John LaForge is on the staff of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental action group based in Wisconsin.